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Police target risky driving


When the conversation turns to Ritchie Highway, drivers have a tendency to recoil.

By day, many say, the road is too congested. But by night - especially weekend nights - people complain that the road becomes a speedway.

"It never fails - I'm sitting at a stoplight and there will be two cars drag-racing," said Mandy Knickman, who works a night shift at the Woodfire Restaurant on Ritchie Highway. "The cars are both revving, going back and forth, and when the light changes, they're off. You could easily have an accident."

In the past few weeks, Knickman said she has noticed something else.

"The cops have been out in a big way," she said. "I see them out there ready to nab them."

In the spring and early summer, the Anne Arundel Police Department sends extra officers to Ritchie Highway charged with catching aggressive drivers - those who tailgate, change lanes frequently and travel at high speeds.

"We had a lot of lights flashing, and word gets around pretty quickly," said Sgt. Bill Booth, who heads the traffic safety section of the county Police Department. "We were finding a lot of high speeds and passing on the shoulders. People would go right around each other."

Booth said his team sent out eight to 11 police officers each weekend to focus exclusively on Ritchie Highway.

"We used SUVs and different midsized cars, things that you wouldn't necessarily believe is a police car until the lights popped," Booth said.

"This is above and beyond our programs that are already in place," Booth said.

For example, Anne Arundel County participates in the Smooth Operator program, which also targets aggressive driving.

Police initiated an extra push focused on Ritchie Highway after receiving numerous complaints from people who live and work near the road.

The complaints prompted police to look at their statistics. Booth said that last year in the county, 10 percent of all accidents occurred and 10 percent of all citations were issued on Ritchie Highway from the Baltimore line to the intersection of Route 10.

"It is a very busy corridor," he said.

Over the course of the recent five-weekend initiative, police issued 249 citations, 230 warnings and 106 equipment repair orders (usually for dangerously modified cars) on Ritchie Highway. They also made 19 arrests.

Booth said that they found fewer infractions this year than during pervious years but declined to provide numbers.

"Each of our operations gets successfully less busy. The word seems to be getting out," he said.

High police visibility is an important part of reducing aggressive driving, said Kenneth H. Beck, a professor of public and community health at the University of Maryland. But it is most successful when coupled with promotional activity.

"People need to write articles in newspapers, get on the radio with public service announcements to really let the public know police are out there, and they're going to stop you," Beck said.

On a human level, there is a certain amount of satisfaction in seeing a bad driver pulled over by police.

"Nothing makes people feel happier than when someone gets their comeuppance," Beck said.

Word of mouth and personal experiences, Beck said, also help spread an anti-aggressive-driving message.

The county's late spring driving initiative is over, but Booth said drivers should still be wary: The police received additional state grant money for more initiatives.

"We still have more of these to come," Booth said. "I might be out there next Saturday night. You never know."

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